Mehmed II, the Conqueror

Mehmed II, the Conqueror

(1432-1481)

The Ottoman leader who captured Constantinople was born in Edirne, Turkey. Mehmed was the son of Murad II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire. His father gave him the Ottoman throne in 1444 in order to avoid the customary succession struggles. Internal political problems forced Murad II to take the leadership back from 1446 until 1451. Upon his death in 1451, Mehmed II became sultan.

Mehmed faced opposition from both his grand vizier, Halil Pasha Candarli, and a “peace party” within the empire. He felt that the only way to guarantee his position as sul¬ tan was to capture Constantinople, the capi¬ tal of the Byzantine Empire.

Mehmed brought an enormous Ottoman army to the walls of Constantinople in the spring of 1453. He brought forth huge can¬ nons; the largest required 50 teams of oxen to pull and 200 men to hold it in balance. The Ottoman artillery knocked down large sec¬ tions of the walls that had withstood so many would-be conquerors in the past.

On May 29, the Ottomans entered the city, killed the last Byzantine emperor, and ended 1300 years of Christian rule. Mehmed entered the city later that day. Greatly impressed with the architec¬ ture of the Hagia Sophia, the city’s beautiful church, he renamed it Aya Sofya (pride of the sultan) and turned it into a mosque. From that day on he was known as Fatih, meaning “the Conqueror.”

Mehmed expanded his empire westward, conquering Serbia (but not the city of Belgrade) in 1459. He took all of Greece, conquered Moldavia (1462), and incorporat¬ ed Bosnia and Herzegovina into the Ottoman Empire. He used the Ottoman fleet to cut vital trade routes that Venetian and Genoan ships depended upon and, after a long war (1465—1479), received annual payments of tribute from Venice.

One area withstood the Ottoman con¬ quest. Prince Vlad III of Walachia (known as “Vlad the Impaler”) fended off a major assault by the Ottomans in 1462. The sight of hundreds of their fellows impaled on high stakes along a roadway persuaded even the fierce Ottoman troops to turn about.

Mehmed expanded eastward as well. He finally subdued the Karaman-oglu, a rival Turkish tribe in eastern Anatolia (Turkey). He increased the size and strength of the elite Janissary corps and made the Janissaries loyal to the sultan, rather than to the empire as a whole.

Mehmed died in 1481. He left a vig¬ orous empire built on a combination of reli¬ gious fanaticism and tribal allegiances. At the peak of power he considered himself to be the khan (emperor of the Turkic nomads), ghazi (fighter for the religion of Islam), and hasileus (successor to the Byzantine emperors).